Bears Ears: A National Treasure Trashed.
Nicole Anderson is a communications teacher and freelance writer living in Sandy, Utah. She has been a member of several conservation organizations focused on northern Utah. I was pleased to hear Nicole wanted to address the issue of the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument by submitting this op-ed to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Op-Ed for the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah
I’ve lived in Utah for most of my adult life and as a freelance writer, communications teacher, and member of various conservation groups, I’ve done my share of fighting to protect the unique geological and archeological heritage most Utahns enjoy. I must admit that my focus has been mostly centered around northern Utah (I live in Sandy with my husband, Mike, and dog, Luke) and the Great Salt Lake—until recently.
I had heard good things about Gregory Zeigler’s new eco-mystery, Rare as Earth which focuses on Bears Ears National Monument near Bluff, Utah. New York Times bestselling author, Anne Hillerman wrote Rare as Earth which “gets extra traction from its setting in the beautiful Utah wilderness … is a highly entertaining thriller.” I asked The King’s English Bookstore to order me a copy which they kindly delivered right to my home and will for anyone in Salt Lake County.
Hillerman was right, I was entertained. But I was also angered.
National Geographic describes this region as “massive acreage [that] descends from the pine forests and high meadows of Elk Ridge and the Bears Ears, twin buttes held sacred by local tribes, through fissured sandstone canyon systems and pinion-juniper desert notched with bladed ridges and packed with ancestral Pueblo artifacts.”
Bears Ears is an extraordinary area. What angered me is what Zeigler touched on in his book. Five tribes had requested that the Bears Ears area be placed under National Monument protection. And their wish was granted on December 28, 2016. A promise was made to those five tribes: the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe.
According to the website for Friends of Cedar Mesa, “On December 4, 2017, after a public review process that showed overwhelming support for the original boundaries and protections for Bears Ears, was greatly reduced by the current administration. The new proclamation cut the size of the monument by a staggering 85%. By our estimate, this aggressive attack removed 74% of known archaeology from monument protection.”
Above: Silhouette of Bears Ears used as page break in Rare as Earth.
Now, did I know about the reduction proclamation? Yes, I read about it at the time and was upset. But then there was another crisis the next day, and the next, and the next. And frankly, with the crowning crisis of all, Covid-19, Bears Ears was no longer at the forefront of my mind.
Zeigler’s book reminded me of this travesty and helped me realize in effect, not only is this reversal a crime against nature, but it is also yet another promise broken to five of our regional tribes.
This simply is not right. Those five Indian nations and several conservation groups, including Friends of Cedar Mesa, have filed suits to protect the monuments. I have also learned that the sacred Bears Ears area is now threatened with unmanaged visitation, vandalism, and most astounding, contaminated groundwater from the storage of radioactive waste from Estonia.
I want to urge all Utahns, especially all of you who love the West to support the work of the stewardship-oriented non-profit, Friends of Cedar Mesa.
This travesty must not stand.
Detail from Jane Lavino cover of Rare as Earth depicting Bears Ears in the background.